Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tenkara Fishing: From Japan to the Ozarks

Crooked Creek
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

As a kid, I was always a low-tech fisherman, the sort Neil Young sang about:
Baby mellow my mind,
Make me feel like a
schoolboy on good time,
Jugglin' nickels and dimes,
Satisfied with the
fish on the line.
I'm still like that about fishing. A sapling rod, a piece of string, and a rusty old hook with a crawdad tail for bait. That's enough for me.

But En-Uk and Pat -- my son and my older brother, respectively -- might be interested in a recent New York Times article by James Card, "A Japanese Form of Fly Fishing Gains Fans in the U.S." (September 15, 2010):
Misako Ishimura waded knee deep into the current, the water temperature perfect for both swimming and soothing relief from the afternoon sun. But Ishimura, 58, had other things in mind as she swept back her rod and flicked the line upstream in a controlled, gentle cast. The soft-hackle fly dropped into the surface film and drifted near a rock undercut.

A shiver vibrated up the line, and Ishimura leaned back with her rod and brought in a scrappy longear sunfish. From a distance it appeared she was fly fishing in the usual style, but the long, supple rod that she cast had no reel, and the line did not run through ferrules. The line was knotted at the very tip of the rod and formed a direct connection between her and the fish.

That is the minimalist essence of tenkara, a form of traditional Japanese fly fishing that has begun to attract anglers in the United States.
Normally, I wouldn't report on this sort of thing, but the waterway wherein Ishimura is fishing is Crooked Creek, a stream that flows through the Arkansas Ozarks and into the White River not far from where Misako Ishimura and her husband Mark Romero live, in Lakeview, Arkansas. But how did they get there?
Ishimura, a Japanese citizen with permanent residency in the United States, grew up in Osaka and became obsessed with jazz. The best place in the world to hear it, she was told, was at a club called Bradley's in New York. She shocked her family by leaving for New York in 1977. While exploring the jazz scene, she met her future husband, Mark Romero, then a sound engineer for jazz musicians. Neither of them fished, and one of their jazz friends hounded them about the joys of fly fishing. In 1989, they fly fished for the first time in the Catskills.

They now travel half the year from their home in Lakeview, Ark., to participate in fly-fishing and fly-tying events across the country. Romero, 60, specializes in tying wild, imaginative flies that push the limits of the art. Ishimura serves as a goodwill ambassador for the International Women Fly Fishers and is captain of Japan's national fly-fishing team.
Lakeview is located on the shore of Bull Shoals Lake, not far from Mountain Home, Arkansas, an area that I know pretty well, having even hauled hay there in that general area back in my hillbilly days. As for Crooked Creek, here's what Fishing the Arkansas Ozarks has to say about it:
Crooked Creek, an Ozark highland stream, starts in Boone County, south of Harrison, and flows approximately 80 miles through oak-hickory hardwood forests, cedar glades, and pasture land until it converges with the White River below the town of Cotter. Its stream bed is composed primarily of limestone gravel, boulders, bedrock, and sand . . . . Crooked Creek contains one of the best smallmouth bass fisheries in America and anglers from over 20 states fish it regularly. It is one of Arkansas' two Ozark Blue Ribbon Smallmouth Streams (the other being the nearby Buffalo River) . . . . Crooked Creek also contains an excellent fishery for Ozark bass in the one Pound class. Largemouth bass, channel and flathead catfish, green sunfish are fairly common.
A sunfish, you'll recall from above, is precisely what Ishimura caught in that creek. Perhaps Pat and En-Uk can one day visit Crooked Creek for some tenkara-style fly fishing. I'd be satisfied to tag along with that sapling rod and just mellow my mind.

But I am a bit worried that if the New York Times itself is reporting on tenkara fishing in Ozark streams, then my rural paradise might be about to be discovered, and I don't exactly want that . . .

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At 5:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best give up worryin' overmuch that the NYT is gonna reveal too much. The seven Wal-Mart Supercenters within the forty mile radius of where Misako snagged her longeared sunfish should be sufficient to dispel notions of "rural paradise."

I was in "the area" three days this past week and nobody seemed to understand 'Mother-Tongue Hillbilly.'

Herschel D.

At 6:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yeah, I reckon my concerns are a day short and a dollar late.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I made up a hillbilly form of fly fishing down on our farm on Big Creek during my teen years.
I cut a thin cane pole about 7 feet long, made a loop on the small end with a piece of baling wire, ran a piece of 8 pound strength line through it, and tied it at the other end.
I could cast it about ten or twelve feet, and pull the line in with my left hand. I sometimes put a rapala artificial lure on it, sometimes a homemade fly, but most often I would catch live grasshoppers. They worked the best.
I caught a lot of fish with this rig.


At 11:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually the original form of fly fishing back in the day...see The Compleat Angler, etc. I have fished Crooked Creek (modern fly fishing style) and can attest to the fine small mouth fishing. Next year En-Uk and I will 'tackle' Crooked Creek as well as the White River.


At 6:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, you say that the contraption also caught live grasshoppers?

But more seriously, you seem to have been pretty resourceful, inventive even.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Pat, I'll let En-Uk know.

I also really should read Izaak Walton's book, which is said to be a work of great literary value.

Jeffery Hodges

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